First, we love Nancy Opel. The frisky singing comedienne all but stole Honeymoon in Vegas from Rob McClure, which can’t have been easy. Her Yente considerably enlivened the goyische Alfred Molina revival of Fiddler on the Roof, and her Dickensian Penelope Pennywise was one of the few things I liked about Urinetown. She surely deserves a musical of her own. And she deserves a better one than Curvy Widow.
It’s an odd fish, the autobiographical account of librettist Bobby Goldman on widowhood and dating in the Internet era. Her late husband, James Goldman, who wrote the book of Follies, died in 1998, pre-Match.com and such, so the timing feels a little off. Still, it’s a fine idea. Over-50 romance doesn’t happen as often as it should in musicals—A Little Night Music, Milk and Honey, Fanny, a few others—and the emotions of those who attempt it run deep and singable.
But Ms. Goldman (who’s usually on hand to lead post-performance discussions), with Trumpian certitude, makes Curvy Widow about her, her, her, and she can do no wrong. And that becomes tiresome, however capable Opel is as Bobby. She has a voice of many colors that runs from low belt to near the top of the staff, and she makes Drew Brody’s lite-FM score sound as good as it ever will. Most of Brody’s songs have Bobby spilling out her feelings, from the shock of widowhood to the thrill of moving from the Upper East Side to the younger downtown scene to first encounters with Internet dating, and onward.
But they’re curiously generic, and short on information. Though Curvy Widow is all about Bobby, we never find out much about her. She’s the successful head of a construction company, with a comfy existence and a loyal network of friends, and evidently irresistible to a large number of worthless web-surfing males. But, despite singing her head off about men and sex and herself, she’s all surface. Opel brings out what character points there are to bring out about Bobby, but we leave not really knowing her, except that she seems to think a lot of herself.
Bobby’s equipped with three interchangeable girlfriends (Andrea Bianchi, Elizabeth Ward Land, and Aisha De Haas), who pop up to comment on her dating choices and are not allowed to have personalities. They do get aphorisms: “STDs are the new ABCs,” says one, whatever that means, and “You’ve become the Navy SEAL of dating.” She’s also frequently visited by the ghost of her husband (Ken Land), who’s so jealous and judgmental that Curvy Widow often feels like a widow’s act of revenge. And she dates. The show is so aggressively multiple-role that poor Alan Muraoka, who’s excellent, has to be Bobby’s psychiatrist, urging her to get laid (would a shrink do that?); then, a moment later, the nerdy date who deflowers her widowhood; then her shrink again.
Bobby eventually does meet a worthy prospect, a hunky, Trivago Guy–like CEO who inexplicably adores her (Christopher Shyer, who also deserves better), and, after enjoying an offstage orgasm, they return to sing at each other and discuss moving in. No spoilers here, but you won’t care a lot; neither character has been sufficiently developed. There are passing references to real issues—how the infirmities of age complicate senior dating, husbands who cheat via websites (a cute number, ending in “please don’t tell my wife”)—but they’re quick diversions from Bobby’s constant, yet strangely inarticulate, inner voice.
Peter Flynn’s direction isn’t much help, keeping Bobby front and center and not bringing out much personality in anyone else. Neither is Rob Bissinger’s set, which is mostly a bed that pops in and out, in and out of the rear wall. Nor are Brian Hemeseth’s costumes, so blandly contemporary that Curvy Widow feels like it’s being done in mufti. There’s a good musical comedy somewhere in the show, an exploration of transitions in age and technology and self-awareness. But you know how (or so one hears) you log on to Match.com, and read this really appealing profile, and arrange to meet, and the prospect turns out to be 15 years older, 20 pounds heavier, and one-third as interesting as what that profile presented? Curvy Widow is sort of like that.
Bobby Goldman and Drew Brody’s Curvy Widow runs through Oct. 15 at Westside Theatre Upstairs (407 West 43rd St. between Ninth and Tenth avenues) in Manhattan. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and at 7 p.m. Tuesdasy. Matinees are at 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost between $79 and $99. To purchase tickets, call Telecharge (800) 447-7400 or visit telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Curvy-Widow/Ticket.